Gabriella Lukacs

  • Associate Professor

I am a media anthropologist whose research focuses on Japan and Hungary. I completed my Ph.D. at Duke University in 2005. Since then, I have been a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, where I teach courses on media, labor, and gender.

An interest in creative and digital labor threads through all my projects. My work on media covers analog and digital media, which I theorize as a continuum. I take a political-economic approach to my research, but also derive inspiration from object-oriented ontology and theories of infrastructure to think about materiality beyond its Marxist conceptualization as economic structures that set events in motion. Currently, I am completing a manuscript that examines the links between the rise of rightwing populism and the defunding of the art sphere in Hungary. This project focuses on non-commercial media, a shift from my first two books. In my previous books, I tackled the themes of commercial television, digital media (social networking and trading platforms, cell phone novels, analog/digital photography), labor, and gender in Japan. I plan to continue exploring some of these themes in a future project that examines the cute industry in Japan.

Research Description

My first book, Scripted Affects, Branded Selves: Television, Subjectivity, and Capitalism in 1990s Japan (Duke University Press, 2010), analyzes the development of a new primetime serial called “trendy drama” as the Japanese television industry’s ingenious response to market fragmentation. Integrating a political-economic analysis of television production with reception research, Scripted Affects suggests that the trendy drama marked a shift in the Japanese television industry from offering story-driven entertainment (signification) to producing lifestyle-oriented programming (affect). The book argues that by capitalizing on the semantic fluidity of the notion of lifestyle, commercial television networks were capable of uniting viewers into new affective alliances that, in turn, helped them bury anxieties over changing class relations in the wake of the prolonged economic recession.


My second manuscript, Duplicitous Technologies: Labor and Gender in Japan’s Digital Economy, examines how venture capitalists built the digital economy by harnessing young women’s pursuit of do-it-yourself careers. Each chapter features a different group of women, such as the net idols, bloggers, online traders, cell phone novelists, and the so-called “girly” photographers, who all turned to the digital economy in search of meaningful work. In dialogue with scholarship on work and social studies of technology, the manuscript develops two arguments. First, it proposes that workers’ search for meaningful work is just as important as technological developments in inspiring new forms of production. While online platforms promised their users opportunities to earn an income, they only developed new ways of extracting value from the unpaid labor of their users. Second, as opposed to positing a hierarchical relationship between technology and society, I demonstrate that, along with advances in digitization, technology and society increasingly co-evolve and merge into techno-social assemblages. My case studies illustrate that the productive life spans of the labor subjectivities (e.g., net idols) that evolve within techno-social assemblages are anchored to the profitable lifecycles of the digital technologies that have spurred their development. The manuscript explores how digital labor furthers the dismantling of systems of wage employment.

I also edited a special issue for Positions: Asia Critique titled Youth, Labor, and Politics in East Asia that investigates youth unemployment and underemployment—a prominent effect of the deregulation of national economies during the 1990s and 2000s in the region. As opposed to understanding youth unemployment and underemployment as social anomalies, this volume analyzes these trends as the new faces of labor. The contributors ask what it means for youth to become part of the workforce in a context in which young people are encouraged to think about work as a source of fulfillment, while the employment available to them is increasingly precarious.  

My current book project, entitled Illiberalism’s Culture: Rightwing Populism and Independent Theater in Hungary, investigates the rise of rightwing populism. It offers a cultural analysis to complement the dominantly political and political economic approaches to understanding rightwing populism and its expansion in recent years. Drawing on the case of independent theater—whose funding the Orbán government cut by 75 percent between 2010 and 2014—I pursue two goals. I examine how Orbán Viktor’s rightwing populist government consolidates its power not simply by disempowering the former technocratic-intellectual elites, but also by dismantling the institutional structures of the culture of these elites. Equally important, I investigate how independent theater is transforming as artists are fighting the government to preserve the genre, stressing that access to what they characterize as “quality” culture is fundamental to a society that upholds the ideals of equal opportunity and social mobility.

I am also developing a fourth book, The Labor of Cute: Women in Japan’s Culture Industries. Expanding upon my second book, this project builds on, but also departs from, scholarship that theorizes cute as a matter of commodity aesthetics. It proposes that the paradigm of cute helps us understand how post-Fordist labor has ascended in the hierarchy of laboring forms in Japan. I demonstrate that expertise in cute culture enabled women artists to enter Japan’s culture industries during the 1980s and 1990s. I suggest that women played a central role in destabilizing the Fordist labor regime as they successfully articulated a humanist critique of alienation through their production of cute culture. I investigate how cute culture interfaced with such genres as photography (Hiromix, Ninagawa Mika), mixed media art (Kiyokawa Asami, Kudo Makiko, Kusama Yayoi, Aoshima Chiho), novels (Yoshimoto Banana, Kawakami Mieko), anime (Ishizuka Atsuko, Yamada Naoko), manga (Okazaki Kyoko, Anno Moyoko), and fine arts. I propose that cute emerged as a valuable currency not only because it fluently translated into ever-newer commodities, but also because it promised to reconcile the subject-object dichotomy of labor that the developmental state had exacerbated by the mid-1980s in its relentless pursuit of economic growth. 


Duplicitous Technologies: Labor and Gender in Japan’s Digital Economy (under review at Duke University Press)


Illiberalism’s Culture: Rightwing Populism and Independent Theater in Hungary


Contemporary Anthropological Theory

Graduate Seminar. In this course, we review current theoretical trends in cultural anthropology. We read texts published within the past decade that represent various thematic and theoretical foci in anthropology including media, environmental, and medical anthropology, political economy, feminism, critical race studies, and queer studies. Although we mainly discuss ethnographies, we also read texts that are not written by anthropologists but are based on ethnographic fieldwork. These texts are important because they enable us to explore what makes an anthropological approach to the production of knowledge different from the ways in which other disciplines produce knowledge about contemporary conditions. Current ethnographies reveal that it is decreasingly justified to locate that difference in anthropology’s unique method of gathering data: ethnographic fieldwork. Many anthropologists complement fieldwork with analyses of textual sources. Similarly, many scholars in literature, linguistics, and media studies rely on fieldwork—interviewing people—as a key source of data. In this course, we will consider whether we could think of ethnographic fieldwork not only as method but also as theory. We ask how the “datalogical turn” (Clough at al. 2015) affects the ways we think about ethnographic fieldwork. Patricia Clough at al. note that as adaptive algorithmic architectures are learning to collect and analyze information about individuals and social trends with ever-greater efficiency, the observing and self-observing human subject is becoming an obstacle in the way of efficient data collection and analysis. We discuss how growing interest in big data might affect the identity of the discipline and the relationship of anthropology to other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. An important goal of the course is to inspire students to reflect on what makes a dissertation project innovative (and thus fundable). Equally important, students are also encouraged to think about how to design research projects that scholars in various disciplines find appealing.  

Technology and Subjectivity

Undergraduate & Graduate Seminar. The goal of this course is to develop new ways to theorize the shifting relationships between humans and technologies. We discuss how the relationship between humans and technology is changing and why this relationship is taking on an intimate character. We ask how this intimacy might be an effect of technology’s promise to enhance our life chances or its promise to optimize our physical and mental health. A focal point of the course is the exploration of how our intimate relationship with technology might be an effect of late post-Fordist work conditions that require us to be constantly plugged into technological assemblages and align our bodily rhythms to the rhythms of machines. After completing a set of readings on the subjectification effects of technologies, we discuss how particular technologies might be conducive to transformations in the conditions of work and to the emergence of new labor subjectivities. We also ask how workers’ resistance to particular forms of work organization drives innovation in technology. 

Gender and the Global

Undergraduate & Graduate Seminar. Gender is a key structuring principle of difference and inequality in society, while globalization is a condition characterized by time-space compression and ever-expanding connections across national boundaries. Globalization emerged out of such (and often violent) practices of contact as capitalism, colonialism, socialism, the Cold War, and neoliberalism. This course explores the intersection of gender and globalization, asking how gender shapes processes of globalization and how the role of gender is shifting as national/cultural regulatory systems are no longer able to maintain control over what is recognized as “normative” in the context of gender roles and gendered practices. This course examines various facets of the interface between gender and globalization in such contexts as cross-border marriages, international adoption, sex and colonialism, gender and state violence, women in socialist welfare states, labor migration, the global sex industry, queer identities and activism, as well as gender and technology (especially, the intersection of gender inequality and the idea of technologically enabled empowerment). The particular historical contexts in which we discuss these themes include colonialism, the Cold War Era, post-socialism, and neoliberalism.

Japanese Society

Undergraduate Seminar. This course aims to introduce students to cultural practices and social institutions in postwar and contemporary Japan. It gives students a range of different exposures—using scholarly books, essays, and film—to look at various conditions and aspects of Japanese culture and everyday life: economic high growth, middle class society, recession, social precarity, gender relations, education, consumer culture, and popular culture. We begin by interrogating the anthropological notion of culture: what is it, how is it expressed, what conditions it, and where are its limits? We examine discourses on the uniqueness and homogeneity of Japanese culture and ask what compels and shapes these ideas and how they are confirmed or contested in such domains as ethnicity, gender, the workplace or the school. The goal is to familiarize ourselves not only with Japan, but also with the process of engaging in dialogue with members of other cultures. We have the tendency of using our own cultural categories as a standard for what is normal behavior. People in other cultures therefore seem strange, while we seem, by contrast, normal. How can we learn to perceive others in their terms rather than those we impose on them (through stereotypes, for example)? How can we use such intercultural exposure to reflect back on ourselves: to learn what constitutes our own cultural behavior and to consider how culture shapes and constrains our ways of thinking? The section topics are organized along two axes; within the individual sections, studies on the culturally dominant forms of everyday life and behavior are juxtaposed against works, films, and novels that explore forces of resistance and cultural incongruity. The course is also structured as a series of oppositions between ethnographic works that have represented Japan as culturally homogeneous and those that have challenged this more culturalist stance by theorizing Japan as part of the global culture and the transnational economy. The special focus of this class is Japanese media and popular culture that is increasingly being exported around the world. We consider the postwar history of Japanese media culture and the reasons for its recent popularity abroad.

Anthropology of Media

Undergraduate Seminar. This course introduces students to theories and methodologies that will enable them to critically evaluate the production, reception, and distribution of media in contemporary societies. We engage with these theories and methods by reading scholarly essays and journalistic articles, as well as by watching documentaries and TED lectures that discuss media in such contexts as the United States, China, Egypt, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and Nigeria. The focus of the course is digital media, which we examine by pursuing two key questions: what can anthropology, as a discipline, offer to the study of digital media and how can research on digital media help us understand the shifting meanings of such core anthropological concepts as community and self. We begin the semester by defining media anthropology, which we do by discussing representative examples of ethnographic research on television, indigenous radio, media piracy, cell phone use, advertising, and ambient media. We continue our anthropological explorations of media by examining how the Internet is regulated. We discuss hacktivism as a privileged terrain where battles over Internet architecture are waged. We also contemplate how the Internet operates as an apparatus that captures free labor. We end the semester by discussing blogging, selfie culture, and social networking. We consider how anthropologists may offer unique insights to studying these phenomena and conversely how these phenomena force anthropologists to rethink such key concepts of the discipline as community and self. 

The Anthropology of Work

Undergraduate Seminar. Scholars have criticized Marxist theories of labor arguing that Karl Marx’s observations—drawn from the industrial working class—no longer help us grasp the new nature of productive activity in the twenty-first century. Others have argued that Marx’s labor theory of value has, in fact, never been more relevant. Today’s culture of producing commodities with ever-shorter lifespans funnels rural populations into factories. Concurrently, expanding income gaps facilitate unprecedented growth in the service sector transforming service providers into what Hairong Yan describes as “new servants of new masters.” These trends, scholars argue, force more and more people into work conditions that are not unlike the labor conditions Marx theorized. At the same time, it is also true that in recent decades, the forms and conditions of work have undergone significant transformations in response to the rise of the service and finance sectors, the devaluation of manufacturing, and the pervasive downgrading of employment from full-time work to part-time work arrangements. In this course, we trace the changing conditions of work and formation of new labor subjectivities in various contexts such as transnational factories, the service industries, and the information industries. We consider how the strategies of transnational corporations to bypass high production costs, labor militancy, or environmental concerns have facilitated the offshoring of production and the feminization of a transnational labor force. We also discuss how the emerging middle classes in countries, such as China and India, drive labor migration by creating new needs for new services. In the context of Japan and the United States, we examine how particular forms of work—such as affective labor—are coming to occupy privileged positions in the hierarchy of laboring forms in what scholars describe as “affect economies.” In the same contexts, we also discuss how young people—who are increasingly engaged in the production of what they consume—are being incorporated in the labor force without being formally employed or without receiving financial compensation for their time. We conclude the semester by reflecting on the condition of the very labor market students in the class will be entering. We contemplate why employers increasingly rely on free or token-wage labor, including internship programs, volunteering, and crowdsourcing. We discuss what scholars theorize as the end of wage employment and ask what might be some of the advantages and disadvantages of this development.



Lukacs, G. ed. (2015) Youth, Labor, and Politics in East Asia, Positions: Asia Critique, Volume 23, Issue 3.

Lukacs, G. (2015) “Cool Japan, Soft Power, and Cultural Globalization,” in Towards New Humanities in the Era of Ubiquitous Media, Ishida Hidetaka, Yoshimi Shunya, and Mike Featherstone, eds. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 195-218 (in Japanese). 

Lukacs, G. (2015) “Unraveling Visions: Women’s Photography in Recessionary Japan,” Boundary 2, vol. 42, no. 3, 171-184.

Lukacs, G. (2015) “Labor Games: Youth, Work, and Politics in East Asia,” Positions: Asia Critique, Volume 23, Issue 3, 487-513

Lukacs, G. (2015) “The Labor of Cute: Net Idols, Cute Culture, and the Digital Economy in Contemporary Japan,” Positions: Asia Critique, Volume 23, Issue 3, 381-409.

Lukacs, G. (2013) “Dreamwork: Cell Phone Novelists, Labor, and Politics in Contemporary Japan,” Cultural Anthropology, 28(1):44-64.

Lukacs, G. (2012) “Workplace Dramas and Labor Fantasies in 1990s Japan,” in Global Futures in East Asia, Ann Anagnost, Andrea Arai, and Hai Ren, eds. Stanford University Press, 222-247.

Lukacs, G. (2010) “Iron Chef Around the World: Japanese Food Television, Soft Power, and Cultural Globalization,” International Journal of Cultural Studies Volume 13(4): 409-426.

Lukacs, G. (2010) “Dream Labor in Dream Factory: Japanese Television in the Era of Market Fragmentation,” in Television, Japan, Globalization, Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Eva Tsai, and JungBong Choi, eds. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 173-194.

Lukacs, G. (2010) Scripted Affects, Branded Selves: Television, Subjectivity, and Capitalism in 1990s Japan. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.